Tag Archives: Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Bunnahabhain 9-year-old (SMWS 10.93)

Bought: SMWS, 6th May 2016

Ratings:
88/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

Those who have read my SMWS Review (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) wont be surprised to hear that this Bunnahabhain will be my last ever SMWS bottle in my collection. Although the majority of what this illustrious independent bottler produce is excellent it was their customer service that let them down and I allowed my membership to expire last year. Nevertheless the opportunity to get a cask-strength Bunnahabhain was too good to resist, so I purchased 10.93 entitled ‘Sweet but Dangerous’ before leaving the society.

I love the standard 46.3% bottling of the Bunnahabhain 12yo, perhaps a little too much, which is why this 9yo by the SMWS failed to impress me. The distillery’s 12yo is mature, refined, smooth and well crafted. Unfortunately this 9yo has none of those qualities and at 61.8% it was very difficult to tame. Maybe I didn’t get the water right, or perhaps it will improve over time as it sits in an open bottle. It wasn’t bad but I wouldn’t go as far as scoring it 88/100 as one member does on Whiskybase. For me it was more like an 85/100 compared to 90/100 for the standard 12yo.

Here are the tasting notes as provided by the SMWS for the Bunnahabhain ‘Sweet and Dangerous’ 9yo:

“Flavour profile: Peated

The nose took us to a beach bonfire – peat smoke, heather, gorse, salty sea air and moules marinières – but one panellist had his own barbeque in a hospital car-park. With water, we imagined coal-tar, liquorice and teriyaki-glazed ribs, an Islay High Street in winter and Dick Van Dyke’s chimney-sweep cap. The neat palate was enormous – deep smoke, chewy dark toffee, mechanics overalls, a disinfected operating theatre, hints of farmyard and pork and apple sausages roasting on a smoky barbeque. The reduced palate – liquorice and clove confectionery – sweet but dangerous (like Mary Poppins!) – and all enjoyed down-wind of an Islay pagoda.

Drinking tip: At a beach bonfire – or while watching a certain movie.”

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Linkwood 9-year-old (SMWS 39.128)

Bought: Scotch Malt Whisky Society, 17th October 2016

Ratings:
84/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

84/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score. It may only be from one member but it is backed up by reviews elsewhere such as 4/5 from Philip Storry (his review here) and A+ on Ben’s Whisky Blog, which comes with a “highly recommended”. With the title of ‘Back to Primary School’ this dram brings back childhood memories of “lime Opal Fruits and drumstick lollies”, “orange barley sugar squash”, “lemon sherbet” and lashings of ice cream in various forms. This single malt may only be 9 years old but it has drawn out a lot from the first fill bourbon barrels and cracks a whip at a feisty 60.3%.

Here are the notes provided by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society:

Flavour profile: Sweet, fruity & mellow

The nose was light, bright, citric, lively and youthful – evoking primary school scenes for some of us – felt-tip pens, poster paints, Flumps, drumstick lollies, fruit salad chews and Jammie Dodgers. The neat palate had some distinctive confectionery notes – Oddfellows, summer creams, sherbet lemons – also pink wafers, peach cordial and hints of vanilla – more adult themes included Buck’s Fizz and mojitos. The reduced nose had peach schnapps, travel sweets, vanilla custard slice, perfumed hand lotion and chopped up kindling sticks. The reduced palate was simple and straightforward – peaches and cream and vanilla sweetness with a wee fizzy tingle in the tail

Drinking tip: A bit of a garden party dram – lazy, laid-back summer time fun.

linkwood-9yo-smws-39-128-70cl

Dailuaine 11-year-old (SMWS 41.82)

Bought: Scotch Malt Whisky Society, 17th October 2016

Ratings:
0/100 – Whiskybase (awaiting votes)
4/5- Philip Storry (his review here)

Although there are no ratings yet for this Dailuaine single malt on Whiskybase, of the five 11-year-old bottlings by the SMWS with scores, the lowest is 81/100, then two at 86/100, one at 86.5/100 and finally an excellent 88/100. This is similar to how Dailuaine by the SMWS does in the Whisky Bible across all ages. At one point a 10-year-old scores an amazing 94.5/100.

11 years seems to be a good age for Dailuaine single malt and this cask strength version packs a punch at 60.1%. The distillery uses ex-bourbon casks, which are usually finished in sherry casks when destined for single malt (e.g., the Flora and Fauna 16yo) but the SMWS have taken this cask as it comes, matured in first fill ex-bourbon barrels.

Distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2016 this Dailuaine is named ‘Lively and Entertaining’. Here are the notes provided by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society:

Flavour profile: Young & spritely

Constantly changing aromas; candied ginger, lemon and honey sponge cake, sour apple sherbet as well as aniseed and ginger thrown in for good measure – this one just would not sit still! So we took a sip – what a surprise; spicy chocolate-dipped pineapple with sea salt as well as sour cherry and black pepper ice cream – we certainly did not get bored with this one. Water calmed it down – well, a little – slightly smoky white peppered strawberries with a balsamic vinaigrette on the nose and milk chocolate with zingy coconut lime and sea salt in the finish.

Drinking tip: If you want to be entertained

dailuaine-11yo-smws-41-82-70cl

Benrinnes 13-year-old (SMWS 36.103)

Bought: Scotch Malt Whisky Society, 17th October 2016

Ratings:
0/100 – Whiskybase (awaiting votes)
4/5- Philip Storry (his review here)

There are 102 different versions of Benrinnes by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) listed on Whiskybase. Seven 13-year-olds get ratings, which range from 81/100 to 89/100. Most are in the upper 80s. That’s very impressive. Owned by Diageo the principal single malt is the 15yo Flora and Fauna series. The house style is full-bodied, smoky yet also sweet with cereal notes and malt.

Distilled in 2002 and bottled in 2016 this Benrinnes is named ‘Ivory Keys’. Here are the notes provided by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society:

Flavour profile: Sweet, fruity & mellow

The initial sweet, fruity and floral array of aromas reminded us of natural rosewater essence, pear drops and ripe bananas. But at the same time there was also the scent of clean wood finally described as opening the lid of a grand mahogany piano and lifting the fallboard after it had been expertly cleaned and tuned. If you have never experienced that, how about ‘sipping a tree’ – a ‘cedar infused’ Campari accompanied by ginger spiced marmalade on toasted rye bread. Diluted; apples in new wooden boxes and crates of limes before we finally relaxed with Viennese apple strudel and a Wiener Melange coffee.

Drinking tips: Listening to Mozart Piano Sonata No.11

benrinnes-13yo-smws-36-103-70cl

Bladnoch 25-year-old (SMWS 50.71)

Bought: Scotch Malt Whisky Society, 30th November 2015

Ratings:
92/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

Bladnoch closed in 1993. In 1994 dynamic Irishman Raymond Armstrong spotted the mothballed distillery when he was on holiday in the Lowlands and he decided to buy it. Lots of work had to be done, which meant whisky production didn’t start again until 2000. Sadly the distillery went into liquidation in 2014 putting the future of Bladnoch in the balance. Thankfully a successful Australian businessman, David Prior bought Bladnoch in July 2015. In September he announced on the distillery’s Facebook page (which hadn’t been updated in over 2 years) that he’d appointed Ian Macmillan as the new master distiller and blender. Another announcement on 24th December proclaimed the arrival of new single malts in 2016. The future is looking good for Bladnoch once more!

Having said all that about the distillery’s recent history, my bottle by the SMWS entitled ‘Alfresco brunch’ was distilled in 1990, back when Bladnoch were under the ownership of United Distilleries. Someone clearly loves it on Whiskybase with a vote of 92/100. The house style is light-bodied, dry, fruity, fresh, floral and grassy. The SMWS description below mentions a meadow, so there’s the grass element, but bacon, gingerbread and salami don’t sound overly typical of a standard Bladnoch. It goes to show how varied each cask can be!

“We were having a Picnic Brunch in a meadow; the sun had almost burnt off the morning dew and we were looking forward to a glorious day outside. Out of the basket came smoked salmon, gravlax and a bowl of fresh watermelon and Cantaloupe salad with mint and basil vinaigrette. The taste was satisfyingly sweet, like dipping a wooden spoon into a jar of heather honey or a glass of delicious viscous mead. Just a drop of water and meaty aromas appeared; eggs Benedict with bacon, gingerbread pancakes with Parma ham and the taste turned into a spicy salami pizza.”

Bladnoch 25yo SMWS 50.71 70cl

Highland Park 15-year-old (SMWS 4.213)

Bought: SMWS, 4th November 2015

Ratings:
87.25/100 – Whiskybase (average from 4 member votes)

Although Jim Murray doesn’t mention this HP by the SMWS in his Whisky Bible 2016 (it’s too new) he does mention 4 other HPs by this experienced independent bottler. They range from a 13yo scoring 88.5/100 to a 22yo scoring an incredible 96.5/100. In the middle are two 14yos, which are closest in age to my 15yo. They score 93/100 and 95.5/100 respectively. This tells me that, according to Jim Murray at least, the guys at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society know how to pick a good Highland Park. This is hardly surprising when you consider that Whiskybase mention 137 separate releases of HP by the SMWS since their inception in the early 1980s. They have a lot of knowledge of Highland Park and it shows in the quality of casks they select for bottling. The code ‘4.213’ would suggest this is the 213th HP cask the SMWS have released. That’s about one bottling every two months since the society started.

My 15yo, distilled in 1999, goes by the name of “A Regency Pomander” with the usual over-the-top Oscar-winning tasting notes conjured up by the SMWS “from the word go this one was oozing quality. The aromas were intoxicating, baked apple with crème Anglaise, Banana Brulee using Ambrosia custard, clove studded oranges, a very chocolaty mousse and always in the background, the fragrant glow of a Jo Malone incense and embers candle. The taste neat was that of thick, sweet and waxy goodness, deep fried corn fritters served with honey and cream, blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and chocolate tofu pudding. A drop of water and the luxurious fragrance of a rosewater poured candle appeared along with a heavenly dessert of macadamia praline and Frangelico parfait.”

In the video below Georgie of the SMWS explains the society’s bottle labels:

Highland Park 15yo SMWS 4.213 70cl

Linkwood 14-year-old (SMWS 39.110)

Bought: SMWS, 27th October 2015

Ratings:
None as yet but added on Whiskybase here.

My second bottle since joining the ‘Scotch Malt Whisky Society’ (SMWS) is this Linkwood entitled ‘Builders at Breaktime’. Not the sort of image I’d associate with good flavour but the description of the bottle goes on to say “chips wrapped in warm newspaper and meaty broth tangled with oily engines. Dough balls with dark chocolate, espresso and cinnamon sprinkles. A cheeky tequila with salt and lime. Twiggy crisps, peanut brittle and garibaldi biscuits. Tools down for the day!” OK so it wasn’t the builders that the title was alluding to but what they might be consuming during their break. Tasty!

In Ralfy’s video below where he discusses the SMWS and reviews one of their bottles, someone comments about how expensive the SMWS bottles are when compared to distillery releases. They mention a SMWS bottle of Ardbeg. In a lot of cases you can’t get cask strength distillery releases but you certainly can for Ardbeg. What you rarely get from Ardbeg is age statements that are cask strength (the 10yo is 46% and the hugely expensive 17yo is only 40%). So it’s difficult to compare SMWS directly with most distillery bottlings. What makes more sense is to compare with other independent bottlers. This 14yo Linkwood (58%) cost £48.10 with free postage. I could buy a 15yo Linkwood (55.8%) from Bartels Whisky for £55.80 but I’d still have to add £3.95 postage. Admittedly you pay £130 to join the SMWS society but it gives you free delivery for a year. If you buy 10 bottles in that time then you’ve made your money back compared to Bartels Whisky (who I would say are one of the cheapest independents). I’m not saying the SMWS are cheap but they’ve clearly done their pricing research and charge appropriately.

Ralfy discusses the SMWS and reviews one of their bottlings (Port Charlotte):

Linkwood 14yo SMWS 39.110 70cl

Highland Park 19-year-old (SMWS 4.209)

Bought: SMWS, 27th October 2015

Ratings:
85.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)

Well, I finally did it, I joined the ‘Scotch Malt Whisky Society’ (SMWS). I’d been considering it for over a year but I didn’t know how long my whisky interest would continue, or if £130 for the initial annual membership fee was worth it. I did my research and concluded that bottles by the SMWS aren’t ideal for a collector but much better for the drinker. Hmmm….but I’m a collector first and foremost so what convinced me to join? The society has an excellent reputation for picking good distillery examples and always at cask strength, unchillfiltered and natural colour. £130 might seem a steep joining fee but you receive a nice membership box with three 10cl bottles (which must be worth £40) and any purchase thereafter comes with free postage. When I joined there were 14 different cask strength bottlings under £50 in the online SMWS shop, and always with an age statement.

My first bottle had to be a Highland Park, which has a society code beginning with the number 4 (which denotes the 4th distillery the society worked with). The list is quite easy to find online. This HP has been given the title ‘The Cinderella Cottage’ which is a bit bonkers but wait until you hear the description on the bottle:

“Our travellers arrive at the chilly coastal cottage, it has been lying empty with damp plaster walls and sea salt encrusted windows. Old cinders lay in the grate so the weary crew lit the fire with heather and peat. They speared sausages with rosemary sticks and grilled them, skin splitting, on the open flames with green tomatoes. From their provisions they cobbled together a makeshift feast of prawn crackers, dimsum and tempura shrimps with sesame seeds. They baked apples in the embers, crispy skinned, and finished their pudding with dough balls. Warm and fed – what a transformation!”

Creating a story to present the tasting notes is certainly unusual but quite intriguing. This Highland Park comes with the drinking tip of “Friday night session dram in a cold climate”.

Here’s Jo of ‘Whisky Wednesday’ and his first review of a SMWS bottle where the membership is also discussed:

Highland Park 19yo SMWS 4.209 70cl